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MMA Round Up: Rampage Jackson – Rashad Evans Collide

By Scott Heritage

The biggest MMA news this week is undoubtedly the upcoming bout between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans, who have been verbally sparring for some time now. What started out as a coaching rivalry on The Ultimate Fighter has eventually become a full blown war of words between the two, which doesn’t seem to have been tempered by the fact that Rampage took close to a year off for his acting career.

Interestingly, Rampage is also hosting WWE Raw in the near future alongside his co stars from the upcoming A-Team movie. Professional wrestling top dog Vince McMahon has been vocal in trying to have MMA banned in several locales, citing that the sport is dangerous and encourages violence. Failing to mention the deaths that have been caused by children trying to emulate moves seen in wrestling rather than mixed martial arts of course. I wonder whether the episode will mention that Rampage is best known as a UFC fighter rather than as an actor.

As far as the fight goes, most are favoring Rampage to topple the smaller and less experienced Evans, although he has been somewhat erratic in his performances recently. Jackson’s biggest problem seems to have been his commitment in recent appearances, although is anything can get him motivated, Rashad is it. Evans is a little too reckless on the feet and not quite strong enough in the wrestling department to trouble Rampage at his best, not to mention his chin isn’t as good either.

Elsewhere on the card, Diego Sanchez makes his return to the welterweight division after taking a one sided beating against BJ Penn at lightweight. He isn’t taking it easy though, jumping right in against unbeaten British prospect John Hathaway, who at the very least will test his resolve and stamina. Sanchez should emerge the winner due to his plain better striking, but Hathaway has a decent size advantage and might find some success if he can out muscle Sanchez in the clinch and take the fight to the ground regularly.

Much maligned Quinton Jackson teammate Michael Bisping is also on the main card, taking on Dan Miller in a middleweight tilt that both men need to win to stay in the upper echelons of the division. Unlike many European fighters, Bisping has shown in recent performances that he can deal with being taken down by wrestlers, both controlling from the bottom and escaping to the feet. This coupled with Bisping’s superior boxing should enable him to grind out the win and continue for some reason talking up a rematch against Wanderlei Silva.

Also on the card Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, affectionately known as little Nog, takes on late replacement Jason Brilz at light heavyweight. His original opponent was set to be Forrest Griffin, who it looks like will now be out of action until the end of the year. Brilz has a decent record, but will be making a humongous step up in competition against Rogerio, who has the crisp boxing and deadly submission game to make quick work of the fight wherever it ends up.

Rounding out the main card, fast tracked heavyweight prospect Todd Duffee takes on the always solid Mike Russow. Coming from a record setting knockout over Tim Hague, most UFC fans probably won’t have seen much of Duffee other than his hands. This one should serve to showcase more of Duffee’s strengths however, which in fact are more wrestling based than he has shown so far.

Another UFC related tidbit is the news that Georges St. Pierre has been training with famed boxing coach Freddie Roach to improve his hands. Roach’s most famous MMA client to date was Andrei Arlovski, who went on to be obliterated by Fedor Emelianenko in his next appearance. St. Pierre is a much more patient and well rounded fighter than Arlovski though, and the fans have been clamoring for a change from his safety first wrestling based approach he has used in his last few outings. A return to the days when St. Pierre used a dynamic mix of strikes to win fights rather than continual top control will no doubt be welcomed by all. It isn’t even that the welterweight ruler has bad striking, but his confidence took a big hit after being knocked out by Matt Serra several years ago.

Last weekend, another of the StrikeForce challenger series took place, which saw blue chip prospect Tyron Woodley move to 7-0 and Matt Lindland get back to winning ways after dropping his last two. Some were questioning before the event whether Lindland should still be thought of as a top middleweight, although despite the win the jury is still out on that one.

Lindland’s opponent on the night, Kevin Casey has only 4 professional fights to his name to the Team Quest founder’s 29. Like many of the other Oregon based wrestlers though, Lindland, who turns 40 this year, is seemingly aging well. Time will tell whether he is not the fighter he once was, but I wouldn’t bet against him working his way up to challenging for the StrikeForce middleweight title in the future.

In the case of Woodley, now seems like a good time for him to break into the big show rather then being kept on the smaller challenger circuit. I’m not convinced he’s ready to take on the likes of Nick Diaz just yet, but some more experienced opponents wouldn’t hurt at this stage.

In further UFC news, the world’s biggest welterweight Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson is considering a move to middleweight, temporarily at least. A recurrent knee injury is preventing him from keeping to his usual cardio regime, and he is predictably not keeping his weight down as a result. Eventually Johnson will undoubtedly be forced to move up in weight class permanently, cutting 50lbs is going to be impossible as he gets older.

Speaking of fighters far too big for their own weight class, the second Versus UFC card has been finalized with Jon Jones vs. Vladimir Matyushenko as the main event. Although free cards are always welcome, I don’t see the main event being particularly competitive. Jones has blown through a fresher, stronger version of Matyushenko in Matt Hamill, and I can’t see him slipping up here.

More interestingly though, Takanori Gomi is scheduled to appear on the card as well, with current rumors suggesting against Joe Stevenson. Against Kenny Florian in his first appearance, Gomi looked ill prepared and sloppy, although some of that can perhaps be put down to nerves or not being used to the cage. Stevenson is the UFC’s go to guy for getting the measure of a prospect. If you beat him then you belong in the upper echelon of the lightweight division. If not then you can look forward to future appearances on the prelims, or perhaps even getting cut.

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